‘Lean in’: Women take leadership in Iowa



Danielle Gehr and Chris Anderson

Wendy Wintersteen attributes her success to her decision to “lean in.”

Wintersteen, the first female president of Iowa State, coined this phrase from a book by the same name.

“Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” written by television writer Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, speaks on how women unintentionally hold themselves back and advises readers on negotiation techniques, mentorship and building a satisfying career. 

When given the opportunity to take an administrative appointment, Wintersteen leaned in. She did the same when she moved up to dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

Finally, after former Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy mentioned her as a possible successor when he resigned in 2011, she decided it was time to lean in again once now-Auburn President Steven Leath vacated the position five years later.

“I think oftentimes women don’t have the confidence. They sit back and think, ‘Oh, that’s not for me. I’m not well enough prepared for that. Somebody else can do that better,'” Wintersteen said. “Women should lean into opportunities. When the door is open, they should say ‘yes.'”

After serving 15 years as dean, Wintersteen said she is proud of the diversity initiatives of CALS and the creation of the agri-buisness program which led to job creation in Iowa.

Wintersteen officially started as Iowa State’s president Nov. 20 joining many other female leaders in Iowa, though one critical Ames leader is ending her term soon. 

Mayor Ann Campbell

The city of Ames elected Ann Campbell as mayor in 2006. After being twice re-elected, Campbell announced she would be retiring and will officially pass the position to the newly elected John Haila in January. 

Currently, on top of having a female mayor, three out of six Ames City Council members are women including Amber Corrieri, Gloria Betcher and Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen.

Campbell was originally pushed into local politics when she became part of a transit advisory board, outlining what is known today as CyRide. Following this, she served on City Council and later believed she had retired from local government.

“When the previous mayor decided not to run, a lot of people twisted my arm [to run for mayor],” Campbell said.

Now, ending her final term as mayor, Campbell feels her gender played no significant part in her work with the city.

“As I look at my whole career in city government, frankly I don’t even think about it,” Campbell said.

From her point of view, Campbell never felt under qualified because of her gender or even thought of it as something that disadvantaged her, although she has noticed some biases.

“When I was running for mayor, I had a gentleman come up to me and say, ‘Oh, once we had a woman mayor,’ and I thought ‘What brings up a comment like that?’” Campbell said.

Campbell admits gender is something she thinks about in her duties as mayor, but as a practical point rather than a personal one. She shares how when filling Ames’ 20 commission boards, she looks to achieve a balance, one that includes gender, age, ethnicity and philosophical differences.

“I would never consider just taking one of those elements when appointing people,” Campbell said.

She hopes that throughout her career, she was never elected or appointed to anything because of being a woman and merit is still the most important quality to any job.

Campbell does admit things are different at the local level and feels gender representation is more of an issue at the state and national levels.

Although it isn’t something she thinks about often, Campbell does see the impact her mayorship might have on other women looking to be involved in politics.

Campbell does feel associating with people of different points of view is important; something she feels women have no monopoly on.

“I think that is the most important asset that it takes to be mayor,” Campbell said.

Although not everyone feels gender is a major obstacle, Bystrom still feels there are positive steps forward we can take to increase gender representation nationally.

These measures would include reaching girls at a younger age and speaking to them about running for office. It could also be creating a political environment that is more collaborative rather than competitive.

Looking outside the local level, after former-Gov. Terry Branstad was appointed as ambassador of China, Iowa’s first female governor took his place.

Gov. Kim Reynolds

Kim Reynolds, who is about six months into being governor, was at one point a college dropout and received her bachelor’s from Iowa State in 2016 after serving as lieutenant governor for five years.

Reynolds, a Republican, grew up in St. Charles, Iowa. An article by the Des Moines Register described her journey from Mount Pleasant pharmacist to Iowa’s 43rd governor.

From pharmacist, she was elected as a clerk in the Clarke County Treasurer’s Office and then as treasurer. After becoming a state senator, she joined Branstad’s ticket as he sought a fifth term as governor in 2010.

“You know, I love this state and what it represents,” Reynolds said during her acceptance address. “I’m a rural Iowa girl who grew up in a small community, was able to run for county office, to serve as a state senator and your lieutenant governor. And now, to serve as the governor of our state.”

She proposed a tax reform that would lower the state’s rates and simplify the exemptions, deductions and credits in order to boost employment.

On being the first female governor, Reynolds expressed she was humbled to be a part of this historical appointment

“I’m excited to step into my heels on behalf of the people of Iowa and work hard every single day. I will leave it to the historians to write what they will about the meaning of this day in the story of Iowa,” Reynolds said during her acceptance speech. “I will do my best to serve as a role model for others to follow and hope to emulate the finest qualities of those who led before me.”

Though, Reynolds added she does not wish to be known only for being Iowa’s first female governor. 

“However, it is my responsibility, my challenge, to do my best. To give them the opportunity to write much more than ‘she was Iowa’s first woman governor,'” Reynolds said. 

Reynolds also spoke at the Young Women in Business Leadership Camp through Iowa State’s College of Business. Throughout her career, Reynolds has encouraged STEM careers and women in business fields.

She told a story of stepping through uncertainty when Gov. Branstad asked her to lead a trade mission to South Korea not long after she started as lieutenant governor. Despite feeling unprepared and lacking experience, she said yes. She got through it by asking questions and having a good team.

“My message is always, don’t be afraid to do it, get involved in a campaign. Run for local office, school board,” Reynolds said.

Present at her inauguration was another female leader in Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst, who was ready to back the newly appointed governor.

“Iowa will be in good hands under now Governor Reynolds, who has made history today as our first female governor. Her leadership on critical issues over the last seven years, and her work alongside Governor Branstad, has prepared her well for this new role,” Ernst said in a release

Sen. Joni Ernst

Elected in 2014, Sen. Joni Ernst stepped into her position as Iowa’s first woman elected to Congress and the first new Iowa senator in 30 years.

During the 2014 campaign, Ernst edged out four other Republicans vying for the seat previously held by Sen. Tom Harkin with 56.2 percent of the vote at the primary. In the general election, she faced five-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley who had the backing of Harkin and former-Vice President Joe Biden.

Ernst beat Braley by 8.5 percent.

“Never in a million years,” Ernst told the Daily at the start of her first term. “If somebody asked me, ‘Hey Joni, do you think you’ll be sitting in the United States Senate in 2015?’ I probably would have laughed at them.”

Ernst is known by many for her annual Roast and Ride event which features Republican speakers. This past summer, the third Roast and Ride featured Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, as well as other speakers.

A large portion of these events is honoring veterans since Ernst has a personal connection as a veteran herself. Ernst served in Kuwait and Iraq as a member of the Iowa Army National Guard and is the U.S. Senate’s first female veteran.

As a psychology student at Iowa State—graduating in 1992—Ernst joined Iowa State’s ROTC.